York History of Art Research Seminars
Decolonising the curricula of our arts and humanities has become a ‘hot topic’ in academic, and even journalistic, conversation, made urgent by the real outbreak of anger and protest, targeting the objects in our everyday cities that are seen to sustain and symbolise racist colonialism and its economic base in enslaved labour. Art History, the journal just published its collective contribution to this decolonising project. Yet de-phallicising, de-constructing, de-gendering, de-normalising, de-classing, de-nationalising, de-abilising, to name a few possible and equally urgent tasks are not hot news (or, should that be, anymore?).
Decolonising as a project is, we have to admit, rather belated. The decolonising wars and their violence art part of 20th century history. In terms of cultural theory of challenging the colony, it is almost 70 years since Fanon wrote Black Skins, White Masks and almost 40 since Gayatri Spivak wrote about the Rani of Sirmur in her article against imperial thinking, ‘Reading the Archives’.
How does the recent, but very late-coming political-intellectual challenge, decolonising the academy and its material culture, relate to what Professor Griselda Pollock of the University of Leeds has been calling feminism as a bad memory? This title refers to the troubled memory work that (mis)represents the overlapping of the late-20th century’s political-intellectual revolutions in which each mounted a challenge to a hegemonic system of social organisation and its imaginary and, to do so, each borrowed concepts and slogans from the others. Packaged separately in historical retrospect as the political movements focussed on class, race, gender, or sexuality, the complex interactions and entwining of social, psychic and geopolitical locatedness of embodiments, labour and desire were carved into competing fields of academic practices and political interests. As a feminist, Griselda says she is presumed not to be a social historian, a scholar of racism, and theorist of sexuality and probably not really a theorist of gender, which has disowned the inconvenience of sexual difference, the feminine and women.
As an art historian, Griselda regularly confronts complex artistic projects and dense single works that cannot be grasped through such fragments and isolated theoretical encampments. The complexity is already there, woven into the pattern. When working primarily as an art historian, Griselda names herself someone making feminist, postcolonial, queer and international interventions in art’s histories. The qualifiers qualify each other, allowing none to escape the interrogation of their neighbouring terms, and none to stand alone as emptied of the other’s imperative to de-somethimg.
In this lecture, Griselda will present several case studies from the contemporary art writing/ art historical projects she has been working on during the pandemic months in response to solicitations and commissions. She will make the case against hierarchy, fashion and selective forgetting, and for a working practice that shows how the works of art and artists she has been invited to consider always-already perform entwining (Glissant) and demand the work she is terming de- as a method for grasping instead the systemic problematic of difference (differentializing, differencing, being other).